Believe it or not, it’s been 10 years since The Dark Knight‘s Joker, Heath Ledger, passed away. When the news broke on 22 January 2008, fans worldwide found it hard to process that someone so young, apparently happy and healthy, and just hitting the peak of his career, could die so suddenly. But, as family and friends state in new documentary I Am Heath Ledger, Heath always sensed he wouldn’t have long to do everything he wanted to do. And boy, did he do a lot.
Born and raised in Perth, Australia, Heath knew from an early age that he wanted to act. Graduating early, he and best friend Trevor packed up and moved to Sydney, where Heath quickly started picking up roles in television shows. An obvious heartthrob, his big break came in 1999 when he played the lead in comedy 10 Things I Hate About You, sending teens around the world swooning.
Relocating to LA, it wasn’t long before Heath started landing lead and supporting roles in big titles – A Knight’s Tale, Monster’s Ball, Ned Kelly, Lords of Dogtown. But it was Ang Lee‘s 2005 beauty Brokeback Mountain that really flung Ledger into the limelight, earning him Academy, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for his role as solemn cowboy Ennis Del Mar.
It was in 2007 that Heath was approached to play the Joker in Christopher Nolan‘s box-office smash hit, a role he said yes to immediately. Known for immersing himself completely into everything he put his mind to, the Joker was no exception, and he worked hard to make the character his own, down to the accent, mannerisms, make-up applied. His family agree that this was one of the proudest moments of his short life, alongside his relationship with fellow Brokeback Mountain star Michelle Williams, from which he fathered their daughter, Matilda. Ledger wanted to do everything bigger, better than ever before, and what better character to go out in a blaze of glory as than Batman’s nemesis, his spellbinding performance earning him a posthumous Oscar, treasured by his family.
Alongside acting, Ledger was an avid producer and director, working hard to create unique, otherworldly music videos for friends’ bands. His vision was clear – record, create, explore – which is where a lot of the film’s footage comes from; Heath always had a camera (film, digital or video) in his hand, documenting his adventures.
Including interviews with close family, siblings, friends, collaborators, and colleagues (including Naomi Watts, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, and Emile Hirsch), the film follows Heath’s quick rise to fame and his blossoming Hollywood career, while never losing himself or disregarding the connections he’d made. It’s clear from the footage that he was an important person to many, and made many feel important.
While I Am Heath Ledger doesn’t bring anything new to the documentary genre, it is a beautifully crafted, touching tribute to a one-of-a-kind man, actor, father, friend, artist.